You’re walking home from work one night and taking shortcuts through a labyrinth of dark
city alleyways to meet someone on time. Suddenly, a stranger parts the shadows in front of
you, comes close and asks you to hold out your palm. You oblige.
I got off the bus reluctantly. I just left my shift at the video store and it was all ready getting dark. I had agreed to meet a friend at a nearby bar just to say hi. I regret not saving up for a car. I hate walking in the dark. I had only lived in Tacoma for a couple months so there were still a lot of unknown territories and unknown places filled with unknown people with unknown motives. I was alone in the darkness seeing figures raiding the garbage in front of the McDonald’s. I jokingly called them zombies but now in the darkness it didn’t seem so funny. In all truth it was a sad affair. They were homeless hungry people so terribly hungry that they would lick the used wrappers of an Egg McMuffin for sustenance and here I was making it into a joke. I felt bad but at the same time a little scared because desperate people can do desperate things. I didn’t want to find out just how desperate they were.
So I heard the bus make its whoosh start up sound and creak away to its next destination up the hill. I started walking, mace in my pocket. I came from a small town, and so had a natural paranoia about the city. And this city wasn’t shiny like Seattle. This was Tacoma, gritty real, dirty, urban, blue collar. People worked here, lived and died here. Sometimes in the streets sometimes elsewhere. It had an appeal to it. It wasn’t phony. The city knew what it was. It’s industrial past glory was there for everyone to see; the old factory buildings, the constant jokes about the aroma of Tacoma. The Tacoma Dome, the largest wooden dome in the world or at least in North America was one of the highlights. It had the Glass museum with that fabulous bridge of blue rock candy thingies overlooking the busy highway. Sometimes I would get a bagel and eat there watching the traffic. All those people hurrying about not seeing the beauty. Just in a hurry to get someplace else.
Now I walked briskly past the zombies not looking them in the eye holding my coat tightly across my body. Cars would occasionally slow down and the driver would call out, “Hey baby, why don’t you get in, I will give you a ride…” Cheesy wink and all. I said no thanks, and kept walking, making sure I wasn’t on the edge, within grabbing reach. I was a woman alone in a strange city full of strangers, trusting no one. I walked by a policeman arguing with a Puyallup Indian man about how he can’t light the grass on fire, both arguing about rights and who can do what. I kept walking not wanting to get involved. It was none of my business if the fire was lit or not, if the man had a right to religious freedom or not, if it was public property or not. I just kept walking. I approach a local convenience store. Maybe I would get a soda, or some gum. Nope, I saw the man put the metal gate out and turn his sign off. Must be past 10 o’ clock. Oh well I think. It was getting pretty dark, my keychain had a flash light on it, but still I thought maybe I should cancel and go home, when out of the shadows a man approached me quietly, slowly.
“One moment. Miss Rae is it?”
“How do you know my name? “ I look around behind me; see the store owner was no longer in his window. I was all alone.
“Hold out your palm.”
For reasons I did not understand I felt a strong compulsion to comply, and held out my hand, palm up.
“That’s better.” The man drops a beautiful sapphire amulet into my hand. The chain looked old, and heavy, the stone shone in the streetlight, looking black in the darkness except for the gleam of the light which was almost like a beacon in the darkness.
“Are you a friend of Amy’s?” I ask weakly, thinking maybe this had something to do with my friend.
“You won’t be meeting her tonight. Take this home right away. And do not mention this to anyone.”
Now I am thinking this is some criminal enterprise. An item from a burglary perhaps? I nod to the man. He tips his hat, a greasy baseball cap and goes back into the alleyway, blending into the shadows. I am left alone on the streets hearing an occasional car and the scurrying of something or someone nearby. I decide to cross the street and start running, my heart pounding. I just want to go home. I live in a small building that has a card key required to enter. I swipe it wait for the beep, let myself in, shut the door and race to my room.
This building is old, maybe from the twenties. You could feel it in the creaking of the floor boards, see it in the small rooms. It was an old hotel so the place was a hallway of doors. Old fashioned arched doorways and hints of yesteryear in the wall paper and the feel of the place.
I thought to myself if this place was haunted, I would not be shocked, but that was part of the appeal. It had a hidden ethereal beauty. Like a lot of Tacoma it had a past, and looked back more than forward but it had a history that couldn’t be replicated. I saw other buildings being torn down and replaced by new condos. Gentrification. It was encroaching, and someday might swallow my beautiful old haunted hotel. Almost made me cry to think of it. How would the well-to-do condo dwellers deal with the zombies? Would they have them relocated, or locked up? Shoved up the hill into Hill Top? I am sure that community would love that.
Everyone just wants a safe place to raise their kids. I recall the empty yard where the girl was abducted and killed up there. The bus would go by and I could see the memorial grow. White picket fence and all, and it couldn’t keep the girl safe. In her own backyard.
I generally bused straight through Hill Top. It was a largely African American community; MLK Street went straight through there. No doubt in my mind the condo dwellers would push the zombies up there. Not their neighborhood, not their problem. I felt an overwhelming sadness in my heart. For the poor little black girl I didn’t know. For the Zombies who had lived normal lives once, had families, mothers, and fathers. I even felt bad for the condo dwellers, at the same time hoping they would be haunted by the people they were displacing.
People are made out of energy; it cannot be destroyed, merely transferred or moved elsewhere. It has to go somewhere. It was very common to run into someone on the street or the bus that would be talking to people that weren’t there. At first I thought I had entered another dimension where Schizophrenia was more commonplace than the flu. But no, it was that Western State Mental Hospital in Stillicum, right next to Tacoma, couldn’t maintain and take care of a lot of its denizens, so the harmless ones were released to fend for themselves. And they ended up on the streets and the buses.
Surely these people had families once, were members of society? At first they were scary like the zombies. But after awhile, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I realized that what they were experiencing was as real to them as my reality was to me. The old lady who stared at me on the bus. I thought she was staring at me. When she got off the bus, she started yelling at her invisible friend. That was who she was glaring at. Not me. I wonder if her friend’s name was Harvey the White Rabbit? Whoever it was, she was angry with it. And there was the lady who sat on the bus bench rocking back and forth with a radiant smile on her face. I always wondered what she saw that was so amazing. Her reality must be spectacular. She always looked like she was next to heaven. I wouldn’t want to leave that for this reality either I don’t think.
I shut my door, bolting it. I turned on the light and looked around my studio apartment. I sat on a kitchen stool carefully untangling the necklace. In the light the blue was more noticeable, but it was still a very dark blue, looking at it was how I imagined it would feel like to peer into a black hole. I could feel my soul getting sucked in. The chain had a silvery color to it, and old fashioned silver filigree surrounded the stone which was an oval shape. It was large and heavy. Heavier than the eye felt it should be. Like something magical. I felt a wave of paranoia strike me, I got up and checked all the windows, rechecked the door. I even looked under the bed. I was still all alone. What was I going to do with this?
This had to be worth a fortune. I looked at Pooka the Goldfish conspiratorially. He was rescued from the video store, someone dumped him off in one of those Petco bags, and it was warm and filthy. I thought for sure he was a goner. But, even though I knew nothing about fish, and put the poor guy in Tacoma City water, he flourished, and came back to life. It is amazing what a little love can do; especially to the downtrodden and abandoned.
It occurred to me that I completely stood up Amy and this wasn’t the first time. I was a horrible friend. Easily distracted, and painfully anti-social. I should text her, or maybe even call her. Eh, not now. I had to find a place to put this thing. It almost felt like someone handed me a stolen loaded gun used in a crime. This necklace felt like that, full of dangerous energy. I do not know why or how, but it was all I could think of. Pooka jumped up and hit the metal grate I was using as a lid for his glass bowl which made a distinct ding. He was telling me, “Feed me.” Only goldfish I knew that demanded food. I absently put some flakes in and went back to the necklace. I glanced at my phone. 3 missed calls, and a text. “Where are you? Not Again. GGRRR.” Yeah, Amy was used to my unreliableness.
I hear a sudden loud knock at the door. I jump, put the necklace into my pocket and approach the door slowly, looking out the peephole. It was late, and it was a secured entry apartment building, so who could it be? A neighbor out of milk maybe?
I see the stranger with his baseball cap and tan trench coat. He had an unlit cigarette hanging from his mouth, and a steely blank expression in his grey eyes. He looked mean in the hall light. I liked him better in the dark.
“Who is it?” I say trying to project calm into my voice.
“I think you know. You have the item? I’d like it back now.” The man glanced toward the front door of the apartment building with concern and agitation. “Can we hurry this up? I got someplace I got to be.”
I looked at the man through the peephole, and I knew what he wanted, and I knew he wanted in. I stared at him a while, watched as he got angrier and more anxious. He started pounding on my door demanding entry with a sudden urgency. Then I heard the door to the building open. I heard steps come down the hall. I saw the man go a pale white. All the blood draining from his face. The next thing I saw I will never forget. It was like the man disappeared before my eyes and I heard a whoosh like the bus going by and he was gone.
The lights flickered for a moment like a giant power surge just happened. I felt something inside me go cold. My left hand was in my pocket, feeling the necklace. I looked out the peephole again. Everything seemed quiet. I didn’t see the other person nor did I hear steps leaving. Strange. I slowly opened the door after unbolting it. I peeked out into the hallway. I saw an unlit cigarette lying on the floor. Nothing else remained. I shut my door and re locked it. My heart pounding I pushed the couch against the door, adding as much furniture as I could move. I had to feel safe. Whatever that was it wasn’t going to come in here.
I finally laid down on the bed feeling exhausted. I woke up to my alarm the next day still in my work clothes, looking around at my trashed apartment. Everything was shoved against the door. I felt my hand in my pocket. I felt my other pocket. I checked my jacket. The necklace was gone. But there was no way anyone could have gotten in here. I retraced my steps. I started moving things back in case it slipped out while I was moving things. I heard a knock at my door again. I looked out the peephole over my couch which was still blocking the door. It was the manager looking concerned. “I am getting complaints about moving furniture in the night, and loud noises. Are you okay in there?”
“Has someone been in here? I mean, this is a secure building right?”
“Miss Rae, you know this is a secure building. You have a key. Sometimes people will let people in when I tell them not to, but otherwise, yes it is. Now what is going on in there?”
“Oh nothing,” I tell her. I couldn’t trust her, I decided. She had a key to the apartment, maybe she took the necklace for all I know. She looks worried but finally leaves. My phone starts ringing; my cell phone also starts going off. I just start yelling stop, stop calling me! I look at the time. It is work; I am supposed to be at work. What is wrong with me? Where did the time go? I have to move this couch out of the way. I go to move the couch and remember the necklace. Where did it go? Why can’t I find it? I start looking for the necklace again, moving the furniture. It must be here somewhere.